Last year, I opened up the blog for commissions: an offer to review anything. I’ve rarely written reviews, so this felt like a good way of motivating me into the practice. Sadly, a lot of frustrating things IRL took me out of my comfort zone for blogging for quite a while. I never want to publish anything I haven’t been able to focus on properly, especially if it’s been commissioned by a fan of the blog, so these pieces are coming out a lot later than intended. 2021 is a new year for UEM! though, and a new year for me. It’s high time we got back to talking about anime here.
There should be nothing more important to fans of anime than being respectful to its creators.
Sure, anime is the product of much more than Japan: the international market has a substantial effect on what gets made, and many creators of anime and its source materials get inspired by media from all around the world. More and more people who aren’t native to Japan are getting involved in its production. But when your job is to translate a Japanese script into English so that Western voice actors can perform the story in their native language, it should be important to preserve as much of the original work as possible. A translation should not be taken as an opportunity to shoehorn your own ideas and politics into a work; you can end up giving the impression that your political views were in the story to begin with.
We should be able to agree that dub writers should not be taking advantage of the language barrier around anime in order to distribute their own opinions. Owing to that, we should be drawing more attention to Funimation’s penchant for doing exactly this. Continue reading Dear Anime Fans: Funimation is Not Your Friend
You ask, What makes it worth defending? and the only answer I can give is this: Freedom to write, freedom to read, freedom to own material that you believe is worth defending means you’re going to have to stand up for stuff you don’t believe is worth defending, even stuff you find actively distasteful, because laws are big blunt instruments that do not differentiate between what you like and what you don’t, because prosecutors are humans and bear grudges and fight for re-election, because one person’s obscenity is another person’s art.
Because if you don’t stand up for the stuff you don’t like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you’ve already lost.
“An educative series for children over 18 years old, Super Fuck Friends explores sexuality without taboos and in all its forms, including dicks and nipples. A positive sexuality, that is unrestrained and totally ignores prejudices… culminating into one single message: tolerance.” – Bobbypills
There was a time when suggesting Boku no Pico to someone looking for anime recommendations was considered comedy. Nowadays it’s hard to make anyone on the internet surprised by the depths of depravity that media can go to. The idea that Japan produces, shall we say, ‘questionable’ content is more or less common knowledge: streaming services like Crunchyroll have helped this further by listing popular (mostly-)safe-for-work anime alongside bizarre farces like Eromanga-sensei. But as much as the average person knows more about the existence of taboo pornography, when it comes to talking openly about it there’s been a lot less progress.
Life is much easier for artists who don’t even think of venturing into obscenity. As popular as pornography is to the masses, so too is the public sentiment of moral outrage. Opinion columns, comment threads and social media echo chambers will never cease to be free of reams of outbursts against the latest film that went too far, or how a certain video game has sexual content that isn’t completely consensual between the characters. What is permissible in fantasy seems too often down to what people will be willing to shout about, rather than the taboos in question being examined with care.
The forces of censorship acting on different forms of media – books, film, television, anime, video games, online spaces – are not disparate: they are connected by common threads of government pressure and moral panic expressed by the public. Those who choose to perform thorough research on the value of prohibiting the sale of ‘obscene’ films, images and video games are more often deemed suspect rather than significant. But while lines of acceptance can be easy to draw for one’s self, drawing them for a community requires an appreciation of everything that’s at stake. Continue reading Censorship: Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Pixels?
Many shows have their blissful moments, but some anime dedicate themselves entirely to bringing the viewer to a state of peace. Iyashikei, or ‘healing’ anime, build themselves upon a foundation of wanting the viewer to feel stress-free, and better in touch with themselves and the world around them. It was no surprise that Yuru Camp, one such show about a group of young girls finding fulfillment by camping in the great outdoors, proved to be hugely popular when it aired. But Yuru Camp goes beyond mere bliss in what it can inspire in its audience, and in how it encourages us to break down the limits we can set around finding peace in our own lives.
A few weeks ago, anime fansite Manga Tokyo launched a new column with its first article, Redefining ‘Otaku’ in the Modern Era. Within it, columnist Tim Rattray (who also writes for Crunchyroll, and his personal blog) takes aim at the stereotype of otaku as extremely anti-social, which he claims is still prevalent in how ‘otaku’ are discussed. He believes that the English-speaking sphere of the anime community needs to take responsibility in ‘redefining’ the word that has been loaned to us, and that we likewise need to set an example for the future of ‘otaku’ worldwide: “Let’s show the world why being otaku is great”.
Recently, popular Twitter user Bardock Obama has made it his mission to ‘bury’ Digibro over his tweets regarding Patreon’s new rules about what artists funded on their site are allowed to draw:
I hear @patreon has instituted new rules banning illustrated incest, bestiality, and loli porn. Um… why? What does Patreon stand to gain by shunning artists based on the fetishes they draw? If they think this is a moral line in the sand, I’ve lost a ton of respect for them. (https://twitter.com/Digibrah/status/978050277713555457)
When some people began to insinuate that he was personally insecure about losing the ability to support these kinds of pornography, Digibro went on to explain that he had been a fan of lolis – a ‘lolicon’ – for a long time:
Where do I get these new motherfuckers from? Do you even know who I am? I’m pretty sure I’ve been loudly proclaiming my love for lolis for like 15 years where the fuck have you people been? If you think I’m going to be embarrassed by being called out you know dick about me. (https://twitter.com/Digibrah/status/978345008481886209)
More than a year ago I wrote a long piece on moe, an otaku’s response to cuteness which has been frequently discussed but rarely defined. While that article served as a place to unpack many of my thoughts, it was also a reactionary piece to an article from The Mary Sue, and became mired as a result in a kind of ‘anti-feminist’ discourse that got me a few too many rabid ‘these women want to kill all men grrr’ followers as a result. A lot of them have since lost interest in this blog given that I’m not actually interested in their ‘feminism is cancer’ perspective.
Granted, I was bitter towards how such an interesting affective response was being portrayed by The Mary Sue, and how Galbraith’s work had been glossed over as ‘misogynistic’. I was especially jaded by how the female voices in his studies – which while being fewer had brought some brilliant observations to the table – had been sidelined rather than drawn out. There’s still a pervasive myth that otaku spaces are a men’s world, and that moe is a man’s code for a misogynistic, infantilizing view of women, which ignores how moe is used by fujoshi and the strict division of most otaku between the virtual and the real. But one quote from Galbraith’s The Moe Manifesto, from voice actress Momoi Halko, has stuck with me throughout my musings on what moe means to many different people:
“More than a desire to date a cute girl or anime character, it is a desire to become her.”
I’ve never seen someone talk about a ‘perfect’ piece of art except as an exaggeration. Even when we’re totally ‘satisfied’ by what we’ve watched, we’ve already accepted that after a certain number of rewatches we’ll come to find something in what we’ve seen that sticks out as a fault. Still, as much as true ‘perfection’ in art is an illusion, it’s something every creative person thrives for: the exact execution of what they have in mind.
There are few things the Western anime fandom can agree on, altogether. It’s hard to argue that Neon Genesis Evangelion wasn’t an monument of the medium, or that Berserk 2016 looked okay. But even when we unite on one opinion, we can still end up deeply divided.
This year, Eromanga-sensei was labeled ‘trash’ by both fans and haters, and rightly so. It goes beyond the idea of simply ‘trashy’ media (trash-like, sharing-qualities-with-the-idea-of-trash) and blatantly basks in its identity as a piece of garbage. For its devotees, it was one of the highest quality pieces of animated defecation the ‘idiot otaku gets surrounded by hot chicks of questionable ages and also his sort of his sister and fucks none of them’ genre has delivered. But among its critics, there have been some remarkably unfair judgements. In framing the show as one of his most hated of the year, Super Eyepatch Wolf did more than express his dislike of it: he didn’t believe that anyone could have been passionate about it.Continue reading How Eromanga-sensei Made its Mark: Masochism and the Modern Otaku
Last week, Youtuber and PC gaming personality TotalBiscuit sparked controversy when he took to Twitter to call for the removal of an attendant of CoxCon, a privately-run convention for fans of Jesse Cox. The man’s offense? During a panel fielding questions from the floor, he asked “are traps gay?”.
Opinions are split on how ‘insensitive’ it was to throw this internet meme into a public space where many identifying as trans would be in attendance. Two extremes were erected; either the question was harmless, and trans people just need to learn about the context of ‘traps’ online, or it was incredibly offensive, and those who disagree just need to learn about the contexts of trans history that render it that way. I can find sympathy with both positions. While the idea of a ‘trap’ in anime fandoms is indeed not supposed to refer to trans people, those who defend the meme have a habit of refusing any discussion of trans issues that explain why ‘offense’ was taken Continue reading Confusing Desire: The Trouble with ‘Traps’
Thanks to Netflix’s Castelvania and the Internet’s unrelenting desire to argue about everything, the ‘but is it anime’ controversy has been reignited in full force. A few months ago, Mother’s Basement attempted to cash in on the debate by proclaiming that “Avatar is an anime. F*** you. Fight me”. Now that one of his sponsors has begun to co-produce anime – a project for which the music video of Porter Robinson’s Shelter may have been a test-pilot – it’s important that we continue to think about how the West has defined anime, and how that definition is becoming problematic. Has it ever been productive to think of ‘anime’ as only what the Japanese make?
In all senses of form, style and subject matter, Castlevania has screamed ‘anime’ to everyone. It’s only the production credits that hold some stubborn voices back from accepting it into the ‘anime’ sphere. If this is anime, they ask, then how do we draw the line between it and cartoons?
The Western anime fandom can be rather reductive in how they consider ‘otaku’. Whenever they’re a point of discussion, the ‘otaku’ is usually figured by the community as male, casually perverted and distinctly out-of-touch with the world around them. Most of all, they’re billed as a pretty elitist group. As accurate as this may be in some cases, it’s overall inconsiderate in the picture it paints, as much as anime frequently reinforces that image. This season has seen something fresh come to our screens and streams, however: Kobayashi san Chi no Maid Dragon has been a bizarre and sometimes overwhelmingly adorable indulgence in the kind of ideal isekai otaku disconnect themselves into living within.
‘Cute girls doing cute things’ shows are known for their presentation of virtual, idealistic, accessible and fundamentally comforting worlds. Yet, Dragon Maid presents deviations from even the norms of this ‘genre’, depicting a mature Japanese salarywomen alongside a cast of widely varying age. Between Kanna’s elementary school and Kobayashi’s workplace, the high school which moe centers its sense of nostalgic escapism upon is missing. Episode titles are undercut by their subtitles, and over-exposure in the explicitly signified ‘fanservice’ episode is shunned rather than lauded. On the surface, these aspects of Dragon Maid promote a closer look at what kind of ‘world’ the show is drawing upon and modelling for its viewers. It’s not keeping in step with the trend of otaku-centered stories (thank God, there’s no light-novel MC), and it looks at itself with a sideways glance too. A closer comparison of what Dragon Maid presents against a wider idea of how otaku view and consume their media should therefore be productive. Continue reading Dragon Maid and the Dissociative Imagination
“What is perhaps most striking about anime, compared to other imported media that have been modified for the American market, is the lack of compromise in making these narratives palatable.”
– Susan Pointon
“…what appears to be be the single most asked question about anime in America, “why is anime so full of sex and violence?” is an inquiry that, while betraying an ignorance of the complexity and variety of the art form, is still significant in that it reveals the bewilderment of Western audiences in confronting so-called adult themes within the animated medium.”
Hibike! Euphonium has nearly finished its second season. The storylines have been tight, weaving between the struggles of Kumiko’s senpai and chipping away the mask of Asuka, and Kumiko’s own reservations throughout it all. No-one can fault the talent that KyoAni have pulled together on this project. But even as all the details come together to make something magical, there’s something holding all of it back; a change from the show’s first run that undoes a lot of the synergy that initial arc established between musical performance, social dynamics and narrative style.
An anime about making anime and celebrating the industry wins multiple awards from the industry. Passing comments might be skeptical of how self-centered the anime business has become. But those who have watched Shirobako know well how deeply it deserves its accolades. It’s a coming-of-age story that abandons the typical high school setting, but retains the moe aesthetic for its femicentic main cast. Combining the realistic struggles of a workplace with the hyperreal glaze of cute girls and boundless enthusiasm, it’s got both reality and moe firmly in its heart, and comments often on how the two conflict and co-operate in various capacities.
Shelter tells the story of Rin, a 17-year-old girl who lives her life inside of a futuristic simulation completely by herself in infinite, beautiful loneliness. Each day, Rin awakens in virtual reality and uses a tablet which controls the simulation to create a new, different, beautiful world for herself. Until one day, everything changes, and Rin comes to learn the true origins behind her life inside a simulation.
A-1 Pictures get a lot of flak from the more ‘critical’ side of the anime community. From angst at the popularity of SAO to Youtuber Digibro’swell-documented hatred of the studio’s work, there’s a lot to debate about their artistic vision and how much commercial tunnel-vision they often suffer from, especially in their light novel adaptations.
But after seeing their short film for Porter Robinson and Madeon’s song ‘Shelter’, I can no longer entertain the idea that they’re the ‘McDonald’s’ of anime. Shelter is short, but it’s no fast food meal. It’s a precious example of everything that can be done when anime deviates from its commercial angle Continue reading Porter Robinson finds Shelter in A-1 Pictures
It can be hard, when telling a story about magic, to get the audience on the level of your imagination. As much as viewers may be willing to suspend disbelief, it takes far more work to get them enthralled in every moment of your world, and wanting to see more and more of it. But Mahoutsukai no Yome, ‘The Ancient Magus Bride’, a three-part OVA series set to air over the course of a year, has began its tale with a crash-course in how to effortlessly weave the mystical into the mundane.
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